Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

by Cantor

Teamwork and the Divine Office: Chanting the Psalms
 
Teamwork greatly improves the chanting of the psalms. Why so? The Divine Office is itself a type of teamwork – conversation between the Almighty and all those joined in the chanting. In our chant rehearsals, we often discuss the need to look at the people chanting on the other side of the church and in a very real sense, “hand them” the  end of the verse so that they might receive it and continue into the next verse. When this happens, a new conversation begins between the cantors as well as an increased sense of refreshment!
 
The joy of this type of “locking together” as we chant the psalms, is that the Psalms take on new life and in turn, propel both us and the liturgy forward. Is this not at least one of the results of worship – the work of the people? But in this case, we are not tired by the work but rather, energized and uplifted! 
 
The chanting of the psalms then demonstrates teamwork at its best – all carry the work so that none carry it alone – each persons’ prayers aiding the others. Here, I believe, is one of the greatest gifts of the Divine Office, and what St. Benedict may well have known, calling for seven “rounds of prayer” through the day, to interrupt and rejuvenate his brothers. This may well be one of the best reasons to chant the Divine Office!
 
Have a blessed week!
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Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

 
I sometimes refer to our Community Schola rehearsals because these rehearsals teach me many things. Last evening, those of us teaching realized that we had a great deal to prepare for All Saints, a new chant hymn for a special service as well as next week’s pieces for mass. We diligently trooped through each work, checking spots, getting the overall flow, throwing in ideas and asking questions as we went along. And then — Surprise! 
   
They did it. Everyone threw themselves into the process and walked out of that rehearsal able to confidently join the Scholas for the upcoming liturgies. A year ago, the result would have been OK. Two years ago — this rehearsal would have been unthinkable! 
 
Mary Berry used to refer to the process of learning chant as “getting honey from the rock” — it takes time, patience, and great effort but in the end, how sweet!  I would love to know your experiences like this because I believe that as we share these points in our growth, we are greatly encouraged to continue!
 
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Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

 
The Joy of Discovery
 
Dom Cardine was always clear to remind us that as we chant, we be careful not to lose ourselves in the details and forget the whole!  As we were rehearsing in our weekly Community rehearsal this afternoon, it was exactly those details — as viewed and responded to by many — that gave us a new view of the whole.
 
One of the great joys of chant is that as each of us works to learn to understand and develop a greater love for the chant, sharing it with others creates a new level of excitement as we uncover a collective interpretation. I say “uncover” because as everyone does their personal best to understand the neumes, the structure, and how these tools aid in illuminating the text, an interpretation develops that seems to have appeared as though it had always been there, just waiting to be brought to life. I hope you have equally exciting discoveries this week!
 
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Baby Steps

 
I have a niece who will turn one in August. She has already learned to walk and barrels around with determined self-confidence. I’m always amazed watching her. She’ll be heading straight towards her destination, and trip on something that knocks her down, or she’ll reach out to something for balance and find that it moves, and down she’ll go. But what I find remarkable isn’t the falling, it’s the getting up. Time and time again she’ll lose her balance and sit down hard or land on her hands and knees, and before I know it….she’s back on her feet — and usually giggling — as if falling is half the fun. I don’t know when that changes for us. I suppose it’s gradual…our first experience with real pain tells us whatever we were doing must not be good — our pride gets hurt, our expectations raise — and suddenly it’s not about the process but about the product. I watched my niece today and felt a little jealous. And I wondered if it would be possible to re-capture some of that childhood sense of total abandon — to throw myself at life with such fervor that even falling down is exciting.
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Late Have I Loved You

 
The problem with writing a blog is that then people who know you can quote you to yourself.  “Don’t be so discouraged, remember how you said you found peace last week . . . “
 
Of course they’re right. If only I wasn’t so forgetful. In one of his sermons Saint Augustine reminds us that Jesus is always within hailing distance: “Each one’s heart is a little sailing vessel. . . .When the winds blow and the waves mount high, the boat is in danger, your heart is imperiled, your heart is taking a battering because Christ is asleep in you. What do I mean? I mean you have forgotten his presence. Rouse him then!  Let him keep watch within you; pay heed to him.”

 
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Late Have I Loved You

by Artist Eye  

Recently we were digging up some very healthy shrubs from one of the Community gardens. We were making room for a whole new set of plantings. The process reminded me of a memorable exercise one of my drawing  instructors once set for his first year students: We were given a  drawing homework assignment and challenged to produce the finest drawings we had ever done. Being young and full of ourselves we labored long into the night to show off our drawing prowess. The next day we  proudly displayed the results to the class, each of us vying for our instructors approval. To our considerable consternation, we we’re not  commended but instructed to sit down and erase the work we had just done so that we could then create a new work on top of the first effort. Those people who accepted this rather sever course correction actually produced some very interesting pieces of work. Although I suspect a part of the purpose of this unusual exercise was to gain a new perspective on our rather inflated egos, the real life lesson it taught was that the accomplishment of some tasks requires being open to a radically fresh vision.    

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Running Through The Maze

 by Blue Heron

I know I would not be a good sparrow. It says in Scripture that the birds of the air do not worry their way through life; God provides food as they need it. I worry about things I don’t need to worry about. If I see someone else struggling with a problem, or how to solve a conflict; I am already in motion about possible solutions, and the ramifications of various options. Fortunately I have a few friends who will catch me in the initial phases of taking on unassigned tasks.

I would have made a great rat or chipmunk however. I can scan a rummage shop and always find something to rescue. In fact, I can sense objects just waiting as I drive by antique shops or second-hand stores. I view this as a gift, but some of my friends are not convinced that this skill of mine should show up on my list of favorable attributes. Left to myself, I would be like a chipmunk who stuffed so many sunflower seeds into his cheeks, that he couldn’t get down into his hole.
 
The spring peepers came out to sing their lovely chorus for the first time the other night; and then it proceeded to go down to twenty five degrees. How they managed to stay warm I can only imagine. Oops, there I go again. There are times when I catch myself at the beginning of the worry routine. It does help to take a deep breath and remember that Jesus is close at hand, ready and waiting for me to relinquish the areas of my life in which I operate so unsuccessfully.
 
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Stories

by Melodius Monk  

I borrow again from Madeleine L’Engle. She writes, “It is not easy for me to be a Christian, to believe twenty-four hours a day all that I want to believe. I stray, and then my stories pull me back if I listen to them carefully. I have often been asked if my Christianity affects my stories, and surely it is the other way around; my stories affect my Christianity, restore me, shake me by the scruff of the neck, and pull this straying sinner into an awed faith.”

This helps me explain to myself why I need creative arts. I’m not a writer, but the “stories” that “pull me back” often come through learning music. These stories could be in preparing a Mass by one of the great masters, like Mozart, or in studying how the harmonic language of Herbert Howells can work so beautifully to paint poetry in sound.  An “awed faith” is a good description for the moments in singing that move me deeply, rattling something in my inner core that I can neither articulate, nor conjure up on my own, yet I know has happened.  I’m often scared at the power of these sporadic, unknown emotions which I don’t know what to do with; but these gifted moments are awe-inspiring enough to change my mood, to let me believe, and to send me back to the practice room to listen and hope for more.

Wanting

 
“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” I’ve heard, read, recited, and sung this familiar phrase many times.  But it caught my attention in a new way this week. It was a lousy day, so I went to another brother after lunch to see if he had any advice for me. After hearing me out, he mentioned that recently God had been talking to him about the word “want”, about how it had been such a driving force in his life. He was trying to learn how to “not want” — instead putting more daily control in God’s hands. When I think of Psalm 23, I usually think of the end verses, about being comforted, fearing no evil, and dwelling in the house of the Lord forever.  But I’ve never thought much about the first phrase “I shall not want.”

So, I figured I’d try to “not want” for the afternoon. This turned out to be quite unsuccessful!  With the start of each day, the list of I “wants” is long. To name just a few: the alarm clock to stop and the time flashing on it to be incorrect; of course coffee; the sun to be up already; the dog not to bark; for the day to go well (especially the meeting this afternoon I’m worried about)… To not want must be a miracle and gift from God. I think of how relaxing it would to “not want” — the stress it might take away, the pressure it could relieve. It’s been fascinating to think and pray about. There’s a peacefulness in not “wanting” or demanding that things (or people) go a certain way — mainly my way.  I think I’ll try this again today, and see what else I can learn, or if I can go for even five minutes without wanting!

 

Late Have I Loved You

by Artist Eye  

I have a young friend who likes to draw dragons. I like to draw dragons too, so sometimes we get together and compare notes. We both agree that the three-quarter view of the snout is the most difficult part to get right—especially if the beast won’t sit still. Drawing is like a muscle: exercise it and it will get stronger. The more difficult thing, I think, is to keep open the access to the child’s eye—that vision which accepts glimpses of the invisible as ordinary.